I looked down at the pedals in my hand
They’d seen better days, to be sure. A battered and chipped pair of old Shimano XTR. The kind of play in the spindle that would drive some people batshit. A patina of rust and dirt staining the palm of my glove red. I absently thought about that dirt. Kanza dust? Pisgah mud? Or was it just dried blood? I thought of the last time I’d stained something with my blood. Really stained it. Thought of the worn hardwood floors of my house. How they’d soaked up my blood like a sponge. A bad night. I winced at memory and looked up at the sky… overcast with a topography. Not a boring blanket of gray, but a landscape in its own right. Peaks and valleys. Currents and shorelines. The rain was light now, but that would change soon enough. And whatever stains and dirt were on those pedals would be washed away. Hopefully replaced with something new.
I’d accept that. If I had a fucking bike to put the pedals on.
Grinduro Scotland started in 20 minutes. art by Geoff Mcfeteridge Grinduro bills itself as “the world’s most interesting bike race.” Grand declarations aside, I won’t argue with that. Even the artwork for Grinduro is instantly compelling. Less a poster for a race and more a flyer for a punk show. A crudely drawn mountain with off-balance eyes in stark black and purple. Bold and uneven lettering punctuated with an exclamation point. It immediately sets the tone for the event; giving nothing away, but saying everything. In juxtaposition to the almost cloying earnestness of other gravel events, Grinduro is more a playful smirk. Less a praise-band ballad and more a bawdy yodel. This sense that however serious an endeavor it may be, it doesn’t take itself seriously. Whatever “it” is, because the wonky eyed mountain isn’t talking. It doesn’t even have a mouth.
By now most of you know the format: gravel-grind mixed with Enduro.
A mixture of pavement, gravel roads, doubletrack and singletrack. Timed stages spaced throughout a day of riding. A rolling party on two wheels, punctuated by whatever efforts you want to give. On site food. Music. Is it overhyped? Honestly… No. Not really. While there are a ton of incredible and unsung events out there deserving of just as much recognition, Grinduro lives up to it all. While not the original impetus for a trip to Scotland, the moment it seemed possible it became a focal point. For the past two years, I’d made vague and whispered threats about showing up in Quincy. But only if I could drive my van. And thus far I hadn’t managed to make that happen. Because, well… I don’t know if you know this or not… but California is a long way from North Carolina.
So is Scotland, you say? Yeah, but no. Yeah… but no.
It can be easy to talk yourself out of travel. I get that. If you’re a practical person… there are entirely too many reasons why “it just can’t happen right now.” Why the timing is wrong. Why it’s too far. Why you have too much to do. Why she doesn’t want you there. Why your god hates you. Why you’re too broke. (And holy fuck, I was broke.) But fortunately… and in spite of how much your god hates me… I’m not a practical person. (Also, have you read my 13 precepts for mega-happiness? Oh man… prepare for some mega-inspiration!) It’s this girl’s fault. She has a wee bit of an obsession with Scotland. So much so that I jokingly called her “lass” the first night we slept together… and it stuck. (I honestly still don’t know her real name.) Lying next to me on the floor of the bike-shop, she told me all about Robert Burns. About Glencoe. About Oran Mor. A.L. Kennedy. Ceilidhs. Stripping the willow. Having studied there as an undergrad. Traveled there frequently in another life. She told me she’d take me one day. But that always seemed far away. Inaccessible. As two people who balance life post-divorce… with two respective children and two respective schedules… coordinating international travel seemed impossible. And anyway, I’d invited her to join me on a trip to France once, and she’d declined. So like… whatever. Pffft. Like I fucking cared. But up ahead, there was this odd little pocket of time. Where both of our kiddos would be traveling with their other parents. And she threw the idea out there. Half in jest… Half not. “Let’s just fucking go to Scotland.” How we initially found it, I don’t remember. But there’s a little airport in Newburgh, NY that flies internationally for cheap. Specifically to Edinburgh, Dublin, Oslo… Florida and Detroit. How cheap, you ask? Cheap enough that we drove eleven hours to catch a seven-hour flight… and still felt like we totally won. Admittedly, when we arrived at said airport, it was chaos. But hey… that’s what happens when an airline’s entire computer system goes down, right? And while it may have taken a little while for them to handwrite every boarding pass for every single passenger, there was beer… and as long as I got the fuck out of the States… I really didn’t care how long it took. A little over an hour later, we were in the air. photo: Dorothy Hans The Isle of Arran is sometimes called “Scotland in Miniature.” In that on its relatively small surface is a fairly good representation of the landscape of Scotland as a whole. Hills, forests, rivers, shoreline, highlands, lowlands, blasted heath. Criss-crossed with a network of quiet roads and trails, and already a cycling destination in its own right, it’s an ideal venue for an event like Grinduro. A contained microcosm, accessible only by boat. Helping to create what truly amounts to an experience, more so than yet another “race.” Even the ferry ride to the island was, to my provincial mind, magical. Watching one beautiful landscape recede and another rise. Eating fish and chips and drinking cans of Tennets in scattered and dwindling patches of warmth on the deck. photo: @podia_max photo: podia_max photo cred: Robin O’Neil More pints in a pub while we waited for our shuttle to the venue. Setting up our tent in the field and bumping into friends from the states like Kyle Kelley… Amanda and Scott… Fis and Michelle. Meeting new friends. Exploring the expo. Wandering down the road to another pub for wifi and drinks. Dragging people with us. photo: @podia_max photo: @podia_max pub seeking photo: @podia_max photo: @podia_max By the time we arrived on Arran, we’d been tooling around Scotland for five days. Staying with friends in Edinburgh. Scrabbling over Arthur’s Seat. Crashing guest rooms. Exploring the city. Visiting pubs. Winding our way towards the Borders. Looking for the Great Uncomformity. Sipping afternoon tea on the beach. Getting sunburns in the unusually balmy weather. Hot tea with milk on the beach. An admitted first. photo: Dorrit McHans Arran was the first time “traditional Scottish weather” really caught up with us. But we were ready for that. And while on race day, I’m sure that no one would have objected to sun and warmth… it was beyond beautiful. And getting to spend a day on that island, with those people, on that bike, in that atmosphere… was perfect. In line for breakfast. Kyle, David and my dumb ass. photo: Dorita McMacinhans photo cred: Robin ONeil. Cal and Toby Toby and Tunnock’s photo cred: Satchel Cronk Jess (@lapsandlanes) and her no-brakes Vendelin Chimp Jonny TwoTone. Marco. Mark Reidy was somewhere in the ditch. Pulling himself and his own borrowed bike out of the brush, he shrugged it off. “I’m good. I just overcooked that turn.” I’d come close to doing the exact same thing. As the first real descent of the day, a rutted dirt track that had slowly segued from mud to gravel to DIY concrete, I’d spent most of it in a state of mild anxiety. Yes, it was wet, but that wasn’t the problem. See… there was an issue with my bike. The Mason Bokeh that showed up…